Sally Winter writes about connecting with her mother for inspiration.
If you had asked me way back in 2005 whether I would ever write a novel, I would have said that I would run out of words and things to say within a few pages. Well, that was until my lovely mum died at the grand old age of 88.
Whilst grieving, I used to sit and consult mum as though she were still around, and one night I asked her to give me some fresh ideas for my career as I did not feel I wanted to do my current job as a costume designer at that time.
That same night I had a fragmented dream about World War II and modern-day London. Incidentally, mum had worked in a factory during the war in Hove, Sussex. Her job was to stitch by hand the fabric which covered Spitfire rudders.
The next morning I could not stop thinking about the dream, so I wrote a few notes. Over the next week, things to do with London and WWII kept popping up everywhere; the internet, books laying around at home, the news! Within two weeks, I had the outline for a story. I came across things I had no prior knowledge of: such as the female ferry pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII and the Battle of Britain memorial on the Victoria Embankment, London.
I have tried to extract the essence of the ATA in the novel, but it was incredibly difficult having to accept I could not include everything about them. Civilian women in their twenties were flying Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancaster bombers up and down the UK in order to supply the RAF with much-needed planes, with no radio or modern navigational systems, and in often extreme weather conditions. Whilst I have tried to tell some of their story as well as that of the RAF, I have in places embellished or changed the facts about the ATA and RAF to aid the storyline.
To this day I swear I was led by my mother. As I sat at my computer and typed away, it seemed as though my fingers were typing free of instruction from me. Several drafts later, and with huge help from my editors Sian Tomlinson, Laura Johnson and Lesley Brennan who started that process, here I am, biting my fingernails and hoping that my first attempt at writing a full-length novel has engaged with my audience. The plan for the novel, Rhubarbs and Circuses, is that it is made into a feature film or TV drama series. With that in mind, I have been greatly helped by the RAF, who have offered their support and backing, the creator of the Battle of Britain memorial, a screenwriter, Maidenhead Heritage centre and a producer in LA.
It is late autumn in London where thirty-year-old Annie lives, works and plays. On the surface she has everything: good looks, inherited money, a high-flying career in the city and a luxurious glass-fronted penthouse flat overlooking the Thames. Underneath however, emotions are coming to a head, as she grieves for her recently passed grandfather, an ex-RAF pilot, whilst also juggling a stressful job and a loveless relationship with a man she knows she should leave. One cold autumnal day, Annie’s life is changed forever when a sighting of a bronze figure in the Battle of Britain memorial next to the Thames rekindles childhood nightmares of shadowy pursuers and dark forests. New demons begin to haunt Annie, and her ordered life quickly begins to fall apart. Reality and fantasy clash, until she is seemingly plunged back in time to the world her late grandfather inhabited as a young man.
Born in London, Sally Winter has moved around the UK, enjoying the hustle and bustle of London, a quintessential English village in the Midlands, and the Hampshire seaside. Sally’s mother, an accomplished seamstress, taught Sally to knit and sew, so that by the age of thirteen, she was able to make her own clothes. This is where her interest in fashion and costume began. After leaving grammar school, Sally trained to be an engineering tracer and detail draftsperson, and ran her own company employing several tracers. She also designed record sleeves, adverts and worked on Marvel comics illustrations whilst raising three children. Subsequently, she was offered the chance to design costumes for a well-established ballet school. She is currently co-writing a novel and screenplay and designing costume for two UK feature films.